I believe the murder of Travis Alexander by Jodi Arias pushes to the forefront one of the most difficult elements of Christianity: the problem of evil. More particularly, it has to do with God’s role in free will, if we can speak of such a thing. Many Christians have probably had various forms of the following questions put to them: Where was God when this happened? Couldn’t he has intervened to check the so-called free will of Jodi Arias, and stop intervene to stop the murder of Travis Alexander?
The answer is relatively simple: God does predestine everything that happens completely apart from anything external to him. This includes the evil decisions, whether they be murder, burglary, or larceny, that people like Jodi Arias (as well as Travis Alexander, and everyone else) make. Nevertheless, people are to be held morally accountable for their evil actions. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith’s article on predestination and its implications for free will:
God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (WCF, III: I). God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (WCF, V:I).
The doctrine of predestination is routinely taught throughout the Bible. Indeed, it is difficult to find a single book in the Bible in which predestination is not taught and man’s free will categorically denied. Note how in each of the biblical cases listed below, the one whose evil acts are predestined is nonetheless, unequivocally held accountable for his evil actions:
Two things are taken for granted in the sovereignty of God:
1) The righteousness of God
2) The sovereignty of man
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”(v. 28)
2 THESS. 2:11-12
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness”(v. 12).
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will”(v. 1).
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart”(v. 2).
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “…for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day.”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him…”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know…”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – ” Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage”[the implication being that if Israel does not “return” in repentance, they will be condemned, yet Isaiah acknowledges that God is the only one able to work repentance in them]
2 SAM. 24:1, 10
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah””(v. 1).
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly””(v. 10).
1 SAM. 2:25
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “…for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “But they did not listen to the voice of their father…”
1 KGS. 12:15
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “So the king did not listen to the people…”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “But to this day God has not given you a heart…”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…to understand or ears to hear.”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – “The Lord has made all things for his own purpose…”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN – “…yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.”
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD: “And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet…”
ACCOUNTABILITY OF MAN: “…and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”